December 9, 2004

iPhone? Doubtful...

Mac Rumors has a page 2 story today about an Apple branded cell phone made by Motorola, featuring iTunes/iPhoto like capabilities, a memory card slot, and a USB port. As Rich Little used to say, "Interesting if true". The story is courtesy of a brief posting at TreoMac.com by someone who claims to have been told about this phone by someone at Motorola.

This type of rumor has surfaced before, and it's become a favorite for folks to chat about, so I figured I'd throw my 2 cents in on the topic.

Steve Jobs has stated before that he believes the PDA market is dying, and that Apple doesn't plan to make another PDA. I've blogged previously about a possible alternative to an Apple PDA, but with the cell phone makers incorporating more PDA like capabilities into cell phones, it makes sense that the PDA market will split between cell phones, and future smaller laptops.

I'm not a fan of Motorola phones, mainly based on points of style, my preference is by far for Nokia's lineup, especially their Series 60 phones based on the Symbian OS, my only beef with them is that they're a bit overpriced, or rather, the phone companies aren't discounting them as much as I'd like. And since Apple tends to have products that are priced at the higher end of the spectrum, it would make sense that these would be the phones that Apple would compete with.

Since this rumor has flown around before, I'm sure a web search will show all sorts of cool looking art with what folks think such a phone might look like. Not being an artist, I'll have to paint my picture of such a phone with words.

A color screen is a given, at least 240x320 resolution with 64k colors, polyphonic sound, IR, USB, and Bluetooth connectivity, and QuickTime software for playing MP3 (with iTunes DRM) and MPEG4 files. It would incorporate Java for downloadable applications/games, and hopefully offer a SDK so that programmers could write apps/utilities in the phone's native language and make direct OS calls (like Nokia's Series 60 phones). And of course it would need sufficient memory for all these goodies. Nokia packs their Symbian OS and apps into a built-in 12Mb flash memory module, so let's assume 32Mb built in, and a Secure Digital memory slot for user expansion.

The phone would naturally be an extension of Apple's digital hub philosophy, syncing with iSync for contacts and calendar info, and also with iTunes/iPhoto for media content. So far, no big surprises, and with the exception of the iApp support, not too different from several high end phones on the market now.

Navigation of the phone's menus and functions might be via a small trackball, rather than the joystick/buttons most phones use, providing a very fluid movement in navigating, and several customizable buttons below the display for quick access to functions like the calendar, address book, or music playlist.

Camera phones are popular, but they add additional cost and many folks don't use them much once the novelty has worn off. I'd much rather see this as an add on option, the user snaps off the back cover, pops in the camera module, and snaps on a new cover with a built in lens.

One area that I see as a problem is internet access, AT&T for example loads up their new phones with all sorts of mMode items and menu functions, and override or replace functions that the phones included from the manufacturer. I can't see Apple going along with this, interfering with their look and feel, so such customization would likely be done by Apple and done in such a way that is flows smoothly with the rest of the design, but (unlike mMode phones) would allow the user to remove such functions if they weren't desired.

One cool feature I'd love to see would be an 802.11 option, with more wireless hotspots around, this would be very handy, perhaps even some .Mac like syncing could be accomplished through such a feature, as well as web browsing, email, etc. Ideally this would be another user installable option, possible through a Compact Flash type add-on. Apple could offer its own phone content through .Mac or a separate service (the iPhone Store?) for downloadable items direct to the phone, or through a Mac via Bluetooth.

The phone would of course be sleek and stylish, with the display dominating the face of the unit. A touch sensitive screen would eliminate the need for a keypad, allowing more room for the larger display, and would resemble a PDA in that regard without actually being a PDA.

But, the key question is could Apple capture a large enough part of the cell phone market to make such a device worthwhile? The iPod has been a runaway success, they just can't be made fast enough, and everyone wants one. Many folks never had an MP3 player just a short while ago, now they're everywhere.

With cell phones, there's a well established market, and making a dent would take a fair bit of work. There aren't that many players in the market, but there ARE a good number of different models, one single phone would not be an effective strategy. So, the big question that would need answered if Apple were to enter this market, is if they'd be committed to developing their own new cell phone platform, and offering a range of models to accomodate the average user that just wants to make calls on an inexpensive phone, to the most advanced user that demands more features, but all with a shared OS that would let developers build software that worked on all models.

Is there such a phone in Apple's future? Many folks think not, but with Apple, anything's possible.

Posted by Jim at December 9, 2004 9:58 PM | TrackBack